The Great BitFolk Boat Trip 2013

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It is back by popular demand, a narrowboat trip around the many and varied waterways of Britain.

This year a group of geeksIRC veterans will be embarking on a 5 day adventure on the Grand Union Canal.

(Note that the "BitFolk" referred to here is actually the IRC channel #BitFolk on and is not related to or endorsed by BitFolk Ltd. in any way! Buy a VPS!)



  • Alan (popey)
  • Andy (grifferz)
  • Dave (Dave2)
  • David (dg)
  • Daviey (Daviey)
  • Paul (Paul2)
  • Phil (philc)
  • Robert (Robert)

Missed out?

We may do another trip in ~September 2013 and/or ~May 2014. Contact Andy if interested.


Address and contact details of the boatyard

Gayton Marina
Blisworth Arm

Tel.: 01604 858 685

Documents supplied by the boatyard


Monday 3rd June 2013 → Friday 7th June 2013.

We need to take charge of the boat at 3pm on the Monday and return it by 9am on the Friday.

Notes for narrowboat n00bs


We have never had anyone fall in or get seriously injured.

Hopefully this would be obvious, but Rule Zero of Narrowboat Club is never, ever put any part of your body between the boat and another object! Narrowboats are really heavy. You will not stop a moving one by putting yourself in the way of it. It will just crush you.

It's best to assume that every bridge and tunnel is too low for being on the roof of the boat to be safe, and to get down from the roof every time. They actually are almost all too low for this.

Be careful on the gunwhales (the lip around the edge of the boat), they may be wet and slippery. It's best to always assume your feet will slip and so be ready to catch yourself on the roof rail.

Speed limits

Most canals have an upper speed limit of 4mph. You should not:

  • go past moored boats at more than 2mph - it causes them to rock and bump into the bank.
  • go fast enough to create a breaking wave - it damages the banks.

Basically if something looks tricky, like if there's stuff oncoming, or you can't see around a bend, just slow down!

Mooring the boat

The boat will have three attached lines - one at each end and one in the middle.

When attaching lines to a dock post use a round turn and two (or more) half hitches.

When running lines through a mooring ring or the rings of a mooring spike use a cleat hitch on the cleat on the boat.

Make sure the ropes are tight and any mooring spikes are hammered in firmly. Do not run ropes across towpaths. In dark areas try to mark spikes with white plastic bags.

Controlling the boat

Controlling a 70ft long narrowboat from the back can appear quite daunting. It is actually quite easy. As long as you keep to speed limits, since the boat is made of 1cm thick steel and covered in rubber/rope bumpers it is very very difficult to damage it by bumping into things. Usually the worst outcome of hitting the side or a lock wall too fast is that everything in the boat falls over and onlookers either mock you or shout at you.

The main thing is not to come into contact with anyone else's boat, ever. Again as long as you were keeping to speed limits you aren't going to cause any real damage, it's just that it really, really pisses them off. They will come out and shout at you, and maybe call our boatyard to complain.

You may find useful.

Pass oncoming vessels on the right (they go past your left).

If you are really scared of steering the boat then you may be able to get away with not doing it, but there may be 7-8 hours of steering to do per day so it's best if the duty is spread out.


Locks are probably the most dangerous area for passengers. If you fall in you might get crushed. Unlike almost everywhere else on the canal, locks are really deep. Don't go near the sides of the boat while it's in a lock.

Aside from falling in, the main safety risk when operating a lock is letting go of a windlass that isn't locked and having it spin around and smack into you. The windlass is a metal bar that you notch onto the lock mechanism in order to turn it, like a spanner. You turn the windlass in order to raise the paddles of the lock. There's a catch on the lock mechanism so that it can't spin backwards. If you forgot to check the catch was there and let go of the windlass, the heavy paddles will fall causing the metal windlass to spin around very very fast. If part of your body is in the way, you risk serious injury like a broken hand, arm, jaw, etc. If it flies off it might even kill someone. It can also damage the lock.

Operating the locks can be confusing at first but you will soon get the hang of it. At least two people will be doing the locks, so you can always ask for help. Aside from safety issues the most important thing is to make sure that the other end of the lock is closed before you open your end. Failing to do this will cause the water from the high end to drain straight through the lock. Canals are often surprisingly shallow and can drain quickly. It is very possible to cause a stoppage (closure of the canal) this way.

Most locks have both ground paddles (hatches deep down under the water level) and gate paddles (hatches on the lock gate itself, above the lowest water level). You should open the ground paddles first, and then only open the gate paddles when the lock is about half full. This is because the pressure of thousands of tons of water can make it spray a bit, and it isn't nice to get filthy water all in the front of the boat.

Try not to drop your windlass into the canal. Three or four windlasses are good to have and we'll be charged for any loss. They're about £10-£15 each.

wikiHow has a good article on operating locks.

Locks are also the most common way that people damage their narrowboat and capsize it. Our damage waiver does not cover damage from the lock cill, and if we capsize the boat in a lock it will cost us tens of thousands of pounds. So let's not do that.

The cill is a flat piece that juts out in the water at the high end of the lock. As you go down the canal, the water level in the lock chamber goes down. If your boat is not far enough forward, the stern can catch on the cill which lifts it up. If you do not then immediately stop the lock from draining, the bow of the boat will go below the water line and the boat will capsize. Note that our boat is 70ft long and the maximum length of boat allowed on the canal is 72ft. So we really have only a couple of feet of tolerance here.

It is easy to avoid the cill though. It's marked on the sides of the lock wall where the cill extends to. It is also generally safe to press the boat against the lock gates ahead, making it impossible to get caught on the cill.

Wikipedia explains about lock cills.

Regular chores

There will be some tasks we need to do either daily or a couple of times during the trip that may be non-obvious to you.

  • Oil check, engine maintenance.
We'll most likely have to check that the oil level is okay once a day. The boatyard will tell us how to do this and any other checks they require.
  • Refill water.
We'll have to stop for a water refill probably more than once. There are taps along the canal side usually near boat yards and our boat yard provides us with a key for them. There's a hose on board. It can take a good 5-10 minutes to fill the tank, and it's free. There's usually industrial waste bins at the same places as water taps so we'll dispose of rubbish then too.
  • Waste pump out.
Probably will not be required. You'll be able to tell if it is required because the toilets will start to stink! If required, it involves finding a boatyard or marina and paying for it.
  • Clear the weed hatch.
In the unlikely event that the rudder or motor get clogged with weeds or other debris, we will have to: switch the engine off, remove the key, and open the weed hatch in order to remove debris by hand.
We have never had to do this before.
  • Tidy the boat at the end.
The boat yard will charge us if we return the boat in a poor condition. Giving the floors a mop and wiping the surfaces will be enough.



Car drivers, and requested passengers^1.

  • Popey (Estimated capacity 4 max)
- Andy, plus up to one more from Andy's house (Dave2?) at TW14 9SA
- Daviey
  • Phil (Estimated capacity 2 passengers) travelling from Basildon Essex, so can make reasonable pickups [ M25 Jn29 --> Jn21 for M1 itself ]

^1 - Subject to acceptance, and "Rules of the Road".

Arriving by train to Northampton

  • David, arriving at ???
  • Paul, arriving at ???
  • Robert, arriving at ???

Pre-trip pub

We will meet at The Greyhound, Towcester Road, NN7 3AP around 12pm, have lunch and then go to the boat yard for 2pm.



We will do a grocery order delivered to Popey's house for late on the night before departure, then he will bring it all in his car. We will pay for this out of the kitty.


Phil is bringing two disposable barbecues.

How much?

About £150 each. TBD.

Once the total is confirmed, please pay this non-refundable amount to Andy in order to guarantee your attendance. If you later cannot make the trip you can try to find a replacement (that the rest of us are happy with!) and get the money directly from them, or else you can just write off the money; we'll still do the trip as long as we have at least 5 persons.

The kitty

We will again operate a communal kitty in order to pay for things we all make use of:

  • Groceries.
  • Pub lunches
  • Evening meals (where relevant)
  • General supplies of drink (alcoholic or otherwise) for the boat.
  • "Random stuff" that may be required, example batteries for walkie-talkies.
  • Disposable BBQ kit for a suitable evening. (Phil - I'll bring a couple of these along with me.)
Kitty tally
* Initial overpayment (discount), held by Andy - £219 

Initial amount into kitty? TBD.

Expect to have to replenish the kitty from time to time.

Obviously the kitty will not be used for things that only a few of us do, and we should try to buy groceries that suit everyone. Any special requests, buy them yourself!

Boat information

This year's boat is "Swan". It has 8 fixed single beds, plus the two tables convert into either a double or two singles each. There are two bathrooms each with a toilet and shower.


Whilst the boat does have a television, we have never before been very successful in tuning them, so best not to plan on watching any TV.

Electrical power

The boat has a 12v charger point like you have in a car. If you want to charge mobile phones etc. you'll need a suitable lead. Does anyone have one they can bring?

(Phil) I will have a 12v USB converter and leads for iPhone and standard micro-USB connection with me.

Stuff we generally need

  • Waterpoof map case for the guide books.
  • 12v car power socket to USB power, for charging phones etc.
  • I've got some of those, so has Phil. – Andy
  • GPS to be brought by popey (takes 2x AA batteries). Loading waypoints into Google Maps for use on phones might also work.
(This is not for navigation! Obviously there's only two possible ways to go, and as the boat is longer than the canal is wide you can't turn around by accident anyway without breaking the laws of physics. It's so that we can put in the waypoints that are of interest and have some idea how we are progressing without having to keep referring to maps and bridge/lock numbers.)
  • AAA batteries for popey's radios and AA batteries for Paul's radios.


Two-way radios have proven useful in the past. Otherwise the person steering can't speak with anyone that's not with them on the stern. Talking to people ahead preparing locks is also of benefit. At least three? One with steerer, one in boat, one at bow or with those doing locks. More would be better, but Matt used to supply these..

popey has two (which take 2x AAA batteries), Paul has "some" that we may be able to borrow..

Stuff each person needs to bring

Space on the boat—and probably more importantly in the cars—will be limited, so try not to over pack. A large holdall for clothes and a small backpack for other bits and pieces seems reasonable.

Note that all bed linen is provided so you don't need to bring any of that. You will need to bring your own towel however. All cooking utensils and crockery etc. are also provided.

  • Waterproof clothing.
We may end up having to steer the boat and do locks in the pouring rain.
  • Gloves.
Some locks are real bastards.
  • A torch.
If you have one; we may run out of power some nights, plus for walking to pub, etc. Towpaths are generally unlit and tripping over a mooring pin into the canal would not be awesome.
  • A tea towel.
There will probably be at least one on the boat, but would be good if everyone could bring one so that we have enough.
  • Sunscreen, hat, sunglasses.
Just in case it happens to be sunny.
  • After sun
As there is bound to be at least one numpty who will burn themselves :)
  • Cash.
We may be away from civilisation for a day at a time and the kitty will need replenishing.
  • Ear plugs.
If we have any snorers you may find it hard to sleep without these.
For drinking down furiously in one gulp in celebration of your hobby success. Ahah!

Clothing considerations

Casual clothing that you don't mind getting dirty/worn is best. Jeans are fine, though if it rains can get waterlogged. Due to the possible weather conditions do bring a few sets of clothing as you may end up stuck outdoors in the rain for several hours after which you'll definitely want a change of clothes. Because we have to continue to make progress even in pouring rain, having at least a waterproof jacket with hood is recommended. The boatyard should supply one set of waterproofs for the steerer, but you might prefer your own and other people also need to be outside to do locks/bridges.

Footwear with decent grip is essential. Trainers are good most of the time, though if it's raining a pair of boots won't go a miss. You'll probably want to have more than one set of footwear in case one set gets soaked and needs to be dried.

There will be drying facilities to some extent on the boat, though obviously drying space is limited. There will be some radiators and an airing cupboard.

Entertainment etc.


If one of our car drivers has a portable (battery powered) radio with line in that they could bring that would be good. The boat may have a CD player.


Cinema evening with a decent sized laptop and sound?

* Latest Releases, determined nearer the time
* Classics:
  - <IDEA>

Cards against Humanity

Popey is bringing a pack of Cards Against Humanity cards.


dg will try and educate people on Fluxx, Pirate Fluxx seems the most appropriate edition.

popey will also bring Star Fluxx and Monty Python Fluxx.

More suggestions welcome

popey will also bring We Didn't Playtest This at All

Planned route and schedule for the trip

Rough idea is: Gayton Marina to Slapton Wharf and return.

Overall statistics of the route itself

Total distance is 67.32 miles and 34 locks. There are at least 12 small aqueducts or underbridges and 2 tunnels (including Blisworth Tunnel (3056 yards long)).

This will take 28 hours, 52 minutes which is 4 days, 52 minutes at 7 hours per day. You have asked for it to be done in 3 days, each of which will be 7 hours and 17 minutes.

Some guesses as to where we would like to start / end each day

If the unlikely event that we really need to push it, sun rise and sun set will be the limit of when we can drive the boat. They're at approximately 04:45 BST and 21:20 BST respectively.

Mon 3rd June

Suggested stop: Castlethorpe Wharf Bridge No. 64 (guide book page 77)
Suggested pubs: The Navigation, MK19 7BE, 01908 543156. Very close to bridge 64.
Stats: 9.64 miles and 7 locks and will take 4 hours 44 minutes.

Tue 4th June

Suggested start: Castlethorpe Wharf Bridge No. 64
Suggested stop: Grove Lock No. 28 (guide book page 67)
Suggested pubs: Grove Lock, LU7 0QU, 01525 380940. Very close to lock 28. More pubs further on in Slapton.
Stats: 21.70 miles and 7 locks and will take 8 hours 14 minutes.

Wed 5th June

Suggested start: Grove Lock No. 28
Suggested stop: Groveway Bridge No.90C (guide book page 71)
Suggested pubs: The Plough at Simpson, MK6 3AH, 01908 691515. Between Simpson Aqueduct and Bowlers Bridge No.91.
Stats: 15.56 miles and 12 locks and will take 7 hours 37 minutes.

Thu 6th June

Suggested start: Groveway Bridge No.90C
Suggested stop: Blisworth Tunnel South End (guide book page 79)
Suggested pubs:
Stats: 16.67 miles and 8 locks and will take 7 hours 17 minutes.

Fri 7th June

Suggested start: Blisworth Tunnel South End
Stop: Gayton Marina (guide book page 80)
Suggested pubs: N/A
Stats: 3.74 miles and 0 locks and will take 1 hour.


Document version of planned route

Photo links

Trip checklist

Crew finalised? Yes
Starting point chosen? Yes
Payments received Yes
Booking made and confirmed? Yes
Guide book acquired? Yes
Decided how everyone is getting to/from the marina? Yes